[Movie Review] 'The Hunger Games' Strike Back With 'Catching Fire'
Academy Award winner and America’s newest favorite badass, Jennifer Lawrence is in prime form in her second turn as Katniss Everdeen, the rebellious young heroine with a huge heart struggling to realize her destiny in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
The sequel to the 2012 blockbuster The Hunger Games (filmed in Charlotte, North Carolina) picks up right where the last film left off, with Katniss now a fame-shy celebrity about to embark on her Victory Tour after surviving the deadly Games.
Directed by Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend), the sequel moves at a much faster pace than its precessor, with no opening credits and no time-consuming character introductions, because you are not watching this movie if you did not already see the original (at least you shouldn’t be).
Best Actress Oscar Winner Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, X-Men: FIrst Class) returns as Katniss, effectively owning the role from the first frame to the last, in a mythic story set in a future where the youth are forced to fight to the death in the titular series of televised games.
When a loophole sends previous winners Katniss and her pal Peeta, again played by Josh Hutcherson (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), both back to the Games a year after they won to compete against other former victors, the stakes are instantly raised, as even the usually thrilled lottery hostess Effie (Elizabeth Banks) is visibly heartbroken over sending these two young people to fight for their lives a second time.
Rock musician Lenny Kravitz returns as Sena, the costume designer who more than ever represents the flickering moral center on the edge of darkness in this dystopian paradise.
Woody Harrelson (Natural Born Killers) is also back as Haymitch, mentor to Katniss and Peeta, serving as a reliable comic relief, especially when Peeta concocts a false pregnancy scam to earn the favor of viewers and therefore sponsors and Haymitch hilariously reacts with great pride at the unexpected move.
Catching Fire has an overall darker tone to it than the first film, after the world saw something they had never seen in the Games that Katniss and Peeta won, when both were willing to rebel against the system in a climactic suicide pact. As a result, the futuristic society of Panem is on the edge of a major revolution, which we see simmering behind the glittery surface of The Capitol, in the anguished and angry eyes of the poor folks in various other districts visited during the Victory Tour.
When a peaceful protester is unceremoniously and quite viciously terminated at an early tour stop, it shocks Katniss and the audience with a gut punch of realization that the games are over.
The biggest problem with Catching Fire is that it is the middle act in a trilogy, rendering it a super exciting teaser for the climactic third act, Mockingjay, which itself will be split into two movies, but it does not lack its own crisp urgency.
By the end, we (and Katniss) know where the story is going next, but we are more than happy and all too eager to follow the “Girl on Fire” on her next inevitable adventure.
Official Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Reviewed by: Matt Artz
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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (rated PG13) is now playing at The Pioneer Theatre in Manteo (Dec. 20 through Jan. 2), and at R/C KDH Movies 10 in Kill Devil Hills.